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National report shows rise in homeless student numbers

PARKERSBURG — While nationally many states are seeing an increase in the number of homeless students, locally those numbers have dropped or remained steady in recent years.

The First Focus Campaign for Children, a national advocacy program, said this week new statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show the number of homeless children and youth enrolled in public schools has increased, even since the end of the recession.

Thirty-five states reported increased numbers of homeless youth and children, while 22 of those states showed a more-than 10 percent increase.

Public schools reported 1,263,323 children and youth, prekindergarten through second grade, who were identified as experiencing homelessness, and enrolled in school at some point in the 2014-15 school year, which was a 3.5 percent increase over three years, and a 34 percent increase since the recession ended in the summer of 2009.

West Virginia actually saw a decline in its number of homeless numbers. According to the National Center for Homeless Education, West Virginia had 8,168 homeless students in school year 2012-13. That number fell to 7,430 the following year, but rose to 7,955 in 2014-15.

Homeless students are classified under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which was introduced in 1987. The act provides additional resources for students and children who do not have a permanent home, which can include both those without a home and those living with other families or moving repeatedly between other people’s residences.

Chris Rutherford, attendance director for Wood County Schools, said homeless numbers for the district tend to run in the mid-400s. Those numbers include any students identified for services such as tutoring and free meals under the federal standards.

For the 2015-16 school year, Wood County Schools identified 410 homeless students, down 36 from the 2013-14 school year. Several years ago, the district had about 600 students identified as homeless, Rutherford said.

“As of December 2016, our totals are 423 homeless youth in Wood County schools,” said  Lynne Taliaferro, the McKinney-Vento liaison for Wood County Schools. “That number is likely to change.”

Rutherford said it can often be difficult to accurately identify and track McKinney-Vento-eligible students. School officials are working with other organizations to create a homeless management information database to better track and identify cases of homelessness. In years past, organizations have not shared such information due to privacy concerns.

“We’ve never been able to talk to each other,” Rutherford said. “This is an effort to properly identify our homeless numbers so we can report those numbers more accurately while still maintaining confidentiality.”

The National Center for Homeless Education report and past reports are available at http://nche.ed.gov/pr/data–comp.php.

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